Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

2.4 A cash flow forecast is used in order to determine a working capital for a business.

ryanrori January 13, 2021

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What Does Working Capital Mean?


A measure of both a company’s efficiency and its short-term financial health. The working capital ratio is calculated as:


Positive working capital means that the company is able to pay off its short-term liabilities.  Negative working capital means that a company currently is unable to meet its short-term liabilities with its current assets (cash, accounts receivable and inventory).


Also known as “net working capital”, or the “working capital ratio”.

Investopedia explains Working Capital


If a company’s current assets do not exceed its current liabilities, then it may run into trouble paying back creditors in the short term. The worst-case scenario is bankruptcy.  A declining working capital ratio over a longer time period could also be a red flag that warrants further analysis. For example, it could be that the company’s sales volumes are decreasing and, as a result, its accounts receivables number continues to get smaller and smaller.

Working capital also gives investors an idea of the company’s underlying operational efficiency. Money that is tied up in inventory or money that customers still owe to the company cannot be used to pay off any of the company’s obligations. So, if a company is not operating in the most efficient manner (slow collection), it will show up as an increase in the working capital. This can be seen by comparing the working capital from one period to another; slow collection may signal an underlying problem in the company’s operations

Working capital management decisions are therefore not taken on the same basis as long term decisions, and working capital management applies different criteria in decision making: the main considerations are (1) cash flow / liquidity and (2) profitability / return on capital (of which cash flow is probably the more important).

  • The most widely used measure of cash flow is the net operating cycle, or cash conversion cycle. This represents the time difference between cash payment for raw materials and cash collection for sales. The cash conversion cycle indicates the firm’s ability to convert its resources into cash. Because this number effectively corresponds to the time that the firm’s cash is tied up in operations and unavailable for other activities, management generally aims at a low net count. (Another measure is gross operating cycle which is the same as net operating cycle except that it does not take into account the creditors deferral period.)
  • In this context, the most useful measure of profitability is Return on capital (ROC). The result is shown as a percentage, determined by dividing relevant income for the 12 months by capital employed; Return on equity (ROE) shows this result for the firm’s shareholders. As above, firm value is enhanced when, and if, the return on capital, exceeds the cost of capital. ROC measures are therefore useful as a management tool, in that they link short-term policy with long-term decision making.

Management of working capital

Guided by the above criteria, management will use a combination of policies and techniques for the management of working capital [13]. These policies aim at managing the current assets (generally cash and cash equivalents, inventories and debtors) and the short term financing, such that cash flows and returns are acceptable.

  • Cash management. Identify the cash balance which allows for the business to meet day to day expenses, but reduces cash holding costs.
  • Inventory management. Identify the level of inventory which allows for uninterrupted production but reduces the investment in raw materials – and minimizes reordering costs – and hence increases cash flow; see Supply chain management; Just In Time (JIT); Economic order quantity (EOQ); Economic production quantity (EPQ).
  • Debtors management. Identify the appropriate credit policy, i.e. credit terms which will attract customers, such that any impact on cash flows and the cash conversion cycle will be offset by increased revenue and hence Return on Capital (or vice versa); see Discounts and allowances.
  • Short term financing. Identify the appropriate source of financing, given the cash conversion cycle: the inventory is ideally financed by credit granted by the supplier; however, it may be necessary to utilize a bank loan (or overdraft), or to “convert debtors to cash” through “factoring”.